Earlier this month, beekeepers and environmentalists asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove its approval of a pesticide that has been linked to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Discovery of the link came via an internal EPA memo leaked by the online site Wikileaks. The memo revealed that the insecticide clothianidin sold under the product name “Poncho” has serious health impacts on bees that may be directly related to the widespread honeybee disappearance.
Clothianidin has been used since 1993 on seed crops like mustard and cotton and the memo reports that “Acute toxicity studies to honey bees show that clothianidin is highly toxic on both a contact and an oral basis.” It goes on: “…information from standard tests and field studies, as well as incident reports involving other [similar] insecticides…suggest the potential for long term toxic risk to honeybees and other beneficial insects. An incident in Germany already illustrated the toxicity of clothianidin to honeybees when allowed to drift off-site from treated seed during planting.” Despite its own findings, the EPA has allowed widespread use of the pesticide under a “conditional registration,” a loophole that allows a chemical in commerce while the manufacturer—in this case, Bayer Crop Science—conducts further field tests.
And clothianidin is not just a worry when it spreads to bees via crops, but also because it persists in soil for up to 19 years, further impacting hives. David Hackenbery, a 50-year beekeeper, said in a related press release: “We are losing more than a third of our colonies each winter… the beekeeping industry, which is responsible for a third of the food we all eat, is at a critical threshold for economic reasons and reasons to do with bee population dynamics. Our bees are living for 30 days instead of 42, nursing bees are having to forage because there aren’t enough foragers and at a certain point a colony just doesn’t have the critical mass to keep going…Another winter of ‘more studies are needed’ so Bayer can keep their blockbuster products on the market and EPA can avoid a difficult decision, is unacceptable.”
Groups that have united to seek clothianidin’s removal from the market include the National Honey Bee Advisory Board, Beekeeping Federation, Beyond Pesticides, Pesticide Action Network and Center for Biological Diversity.